I was out of town when the defecation hit the rotary oscillator about Tom Kawczynski, town manager — well, former town manager, now, thankfully — of Jackman, Maine. While I was vacationing in Chicago, city of my birth, my inbox and social media filled up with stuff about him. Being who I am and writing what I write, my trip wasn’t enough to allow me to ignore him.
For those who somehow missed this story, or glossed over it because the tiny town of Jackman isn’t on their radar, Kawczynski is founder and leader of a "movement" (website) called New Albion. That’s already enough of a white supremacist/white separatist red flag. The intention of New Albion is to defend the culture and people — white people, that is — of New England and includes a call for folks of different races to “voluntarily separate” as well as trying to keep people of “different cultures” from coming to northern New England. Essentially, he seeks some kind of white utopia free from people of color.
Much like our unfortunate mini-Trump of a governor, Kawczynski’s views (and subsequent posturing about being treated unfairly) made not only regional but national news. It was another reminder that overt racism exists and thrives in pockets of Maine and in individual hearts, and that we still have work to do. But while Maine is a work-in-progress when it comes to racial equality and embracing non-white, non-Christian people, it isn’t as bad as people like Kawczynski and Gov. Paul LePage make it look.
Predictably, more than a few people decided to defend him and paint the incident as some sort of trampling of free speech. I'll take this moment to remind everyone that freedom of speech (and freedom from government persecution about your speech) doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.
More importantly, the idea floated by a not-inconsiderable number of people that “it doesn’t matter what his views are as long as he can do his job well” is a dangerous one that I need to stomp on right here, right now. People in positions of power — whether legislators or town managers or supervisors or whatever else — have the power to alter the direction of communities, harm certain individuals and populations, and generally make their odious opinions into policy, sometimes subtly but still disastrously. That is why people like this need to be rooted out. No, he can’t properly do his job as town manager — even in a state as white as Maine — with an emphatically white-supremacist, segregationist, and racist worldview.
A town manager is supposed to make sure their entire town runs well, equitably and safely for its residents and visitors. Not just the white ones. I don’t know how many people of color live in or near Jackman nor how many might pass through, but his hate had the potential to put them in very real danger of oppression or harm. Furthermore, normalizing racism by allowing open racists to hold positions of power only emboldens other racists and leads to wider problems.
Let's put it another way. Would you hire a firefighter who is afraid of putting themselves at risk? Would you hire a police officer who was an anarchist? Would you want as a public school superintendent a person who believed fervently in the supremacy of religious or home-school educations?
You don’t put a person who holds disdain, distrust and revulsion for vast numbers of people and groups — for no reason than because they're different — in charge of a town. (You shouldn’t put them in charge of a state, either; we should know.) In this case, the selectmen of Jackman may very have learned from that, and for that I am grateful. I only wish they could have found a way to get rid of Kawczynski without giving him a $30,000 severance package. Hopefully they and others will learn to research job applicants’ websites and social media to gauge the content of their character.
We have enough racism entrenched in the systems and minds of Maine without someone in power actually presenting a face that says, “We can make Maine white again.” That’s not the path to healing, but heaping on more wounds. Instead, we should hasten the process toward a state — and hopefully a nation — that walks the walk with regard to all that talk of freedom, equality, and justice for all.